Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 33

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

House budget would add ‘emergency’ $200 million for charter schools

The House public education budget would be extra kind to charter schools next year, pumping $200 million into charters specifically targeting children stuck in persistently low-performing classrooms.

The money would provide grants to “charter school networks with a proven track record of serving specifically low-income students and successfully closing the achievement gap,” said Manny Diaz Jr., chairman of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Separate legislation to provide the details — including how to target the students most in need — is still being worked out, he added.

“We have a school that has failed for 10 years. Every aspect of the turnaround process has been tried there,” Diaz said.

“This is intensive care,” he said. “This is one of those intensive tools to go after that.”

The existing public schools would operate alongside the charters.

“We consider this an emergency, and so there has to be a streamlined process to get those providers into those situations,” Diaz said.

An analysis of school performance as of the 2015-16 school year showed that 495 — 15 percent of the total — scored D or F on their evaluations, Diaz told committee members.

Sixty were “persistently low-performing” — meaning they’d lagged for five years or more.

Students attending those schools number 33,400 students, he said.

The house budget subcommittees announced their budget outlines throughout Tuesday. More details here and here.

Democrats expressed skepticism, worried about spending public dollars outside public classrooms.

Diaz wants to give more money to teachers, too, including $200 million to make Best and Brightest Scholarship bonuses available to more teachers.

The Senate has expressed interest in boosting the program, but has yet to commit money.

“The speaker’s committed to rewarding these teachers. If you expand the criteria, you have to make a financial commitment to go along with it,” Diaz said.

He added that the subcommittee would not vote on the package.

“The next stop for our budget is full Appropriations Committee next week, on Wednesday, April 5, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” he said.

The overall pre-K-through-12 budget would total $15.1 billion, a 5.75 percent increase. State general revenues comprise $12 billion of that.

State contributions to school districts would increase by $251.6 million, for a total of $20.4 billion.

But — unlike Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate — the House doesn’t wants to capture higher real estate values collected via local property taxes. It would lower those rates to collect the same about as last year — savings to taxpayers of nearly $510 million.

Does Diaz see room for compromise?

“I think the speaker was quoted as saying ‘Hell no on raising taxes,’ so I’m just going to defer to his quote.”

As with the other budget subcommittees in the House, Diaz targeted jobs that have been unfilled for more than 180 days for elimination — here, 1,060 positions.

The House budget subcommittees were instructed to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon. Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has also discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts.

The targets reflect flattening tax proceeds.

House and Senate cement their differences on Visit Florida funding

House budget writers stuck to the plan Tuesday in rolling out details of their proposed $12.3 billion for transportation and tourism. It would eliminate economic incentives programs including Enterprise Florida, and sharply reduce spending on Visit Florida.

“We’re basically following the tenets of (HB) 7005, the policy bill that was passed a couple of weeks ago,” said Clay Ingram, chairman of the Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

The committee would give $25 million to Visit Florida, rather less than the $76 million recommended by its Senate counterpart earlier in the day. It would provide $10 million for Space Florida.

But a raft of additional business incentives programs would fall by the wayside under the House budget.

Ingram conceded the differences are wide.

“If we were to go to conference right this second, I have no idea how it would turn out,” he said.

“I just know that the conversations that go on at the 4th Floor level” — between House and Senate leaders, that is — “will probably get us in a position to negotiate.”

Surviving incentives would benefit African-American- and Hispanic-owned businesses, the Florida Sports Foundation, and the Defense Support Task Force, which tries to recruit and retain military operations.

Five budget subcommittees were releasing outlines of their spending plans all day. The formal Appropriations Act is due by week’s end. More here and here.

The budget would cut staff positions at the Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the incentives, among other duties. But they represent positions that have gone vacant for more than 180 days, Ingram said.

There would be $155 million for affordable housing, including $4 million for the homeless.

There would be $10.8 billion for the Department of Transportation, including $9.9 billion for its work program.

The House budget subcommittees were instructed to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon. Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has also discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts.

The targets reflect flattening tax proceeds.

One agency that emerged unscathed in Ingram’s proposal was the Department of Military Affairs. It will hold steady at $72.2 million during the next budget year.

House budget would cut jobs, money for hospitals and county health units

The Florida House would spend $31.3 billion on health care programs during the next budget year, cutting money for hospitals and county health departments, but boosting spending on mental health and substance abuse programs.

Chairman Jason Brodeur outlined the proposal Tuesday morning during hearings before the Health Care Appropriation Subcommittee. It was one of five subcommittee releasing budget outlines, pending release of the formal appropriations bill by week’s end. More details here and here.

Under the plan, the state would spend nearly 1 percent less than it does now, including a 1.9 percent decrease in General Revenue.

Hospitals would lose $238.6 million in general revenues for in-patient and out-patient care, or $621. 8 million including federal matching funds, a 7 percent decline.

But the budget would send them $817.6 million in add-on payments, depending on the levels of charity and Medicaid care they provide.

Total Medicaid reductions would total 0.82 percent, Brodeur said.

“We said in there that nobody’s payment rate could go above 5 percent or below 5 percent of what they got, so that it smooths it out over time,” he said. “What we don’t want to have happen is implement a policy, and then have either the bottom fall out or somebody get an enormous amount of money for no difference in effort.”

The budget calls for elimination of 574 jobs, but Brodeur said he targeted positions that had been vacant for 180 days or more.

He pointed to a vacancy average of 416 days in the county health departments, which he said followed a shift from those departments to other agencies doing the same jobs.

Against the cut for hospitals, the state would create a four-tier plan to reimburse them for Medicaid caseloads, with weighting for teaching and public hospitals.

Tier 1 hospitals would be reimbursed at around 73 percent for Medicaid patients. They would need to devote 50 percent to 90 percent of their caseload to Medicaid.

Tier 2 would get 62 percent, but most post Medicaid caseloads of 32 percent to 49 percent — and, if teaching hospitals, as few as 25 percent.

Tier 3 institutions would get 20 percent, but would report Medicaid caseloads of 25 percent to 49 percent.

Tier 4 hospitals, with Medicaid caseloads of lower than 25 percent, would get no reimbursement.

The plan differs from Gov. Rick Scott’s budget, which would link reimbursements to profitability, not caseload.

“I don’t think, principally, you can penalize someone for being profitable,” Brodeur said. “That’s not where we’re at. We want to make sure the money follows the patent.”

The budget says farewell to Florida’s Low-Income Pool program for charity care. That reflects the Obama administration’s phase-out of the program, to try to steer the state into accepting the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

“This now reflects, with policy and budget, that program is gone, and here’s how we’re accounting for it,” Brodeur said.

The plan does not address nursing home reimbursements; Brodeur said the committee handle that separately.

Hospital lobbyists were dismayed at the spending levels.

“We are disappointed that the House and the governor are chosing to cut safety net hospitals that do the majority of Medicaid and charity (care) in this state,” said Lindy Kennedy, of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

“But it’s early, and we know we have a lot of supporters in both chambers, and we hope it will all work out in the end,” she said.

The House budget subcommittees were instructed to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon. Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has also discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts.

The targets reflect flattening tax proceeds.

Brodeur said his committee’s plan is closer to its more generous target. That spared nursing homes some of the pain.

“If we had to find another $250 million in GR to cut, that would be our next biggest spend. And so we would probably look at that next,” he said.

The spending levels reflect conversations with members of the Senate.

“We, in working with our Senate partners, want to make sure we have something that’s comfortable with everybody. And I think, as we were looking at deeper cuts, probably getting signals that I don’t know that we could get there,” Brodeur said.

“Would a lot of small-government conservatives like to get to that? Sure. We absolutely would. But I think this is a nice starting place for us — not knowing, of course, what will happen in conference.”

Steve Bittel visits Tallahassee to rally Democrats to ‘move forward now’

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Steve Bittel came to Tallahassee Monday to detail his efforts to rebuild following the November disaster.

“It’s been a disheartening time,” Bittel said, but he urged members of the Leon County Democratic Party to transform their disappointment into action.

“We should be angry. We lost Florida, and we shouldn’t have lost Florida. I candidly say all over the state, that loss is on us. We could have done more. It was close. We all regret it. We can only move forward now.”

He sees a chance to pick up three seats in the state Senate next year, for 18 total in the 40-member body. (Rene Garcia will be term-limited out, and Frank Artiles and Dana Young seem gettable, he said.)

He believes Bill Nelson will win re-election to the U.S. Senate.

Especially if Donald Trump inspires a pro-Democratic wave election.

“But there’s a lot to do,” he said.

“I was criticized during my campaign — they said I think it’s all about money. I don’t think it’s all about money. We need resources to fund people who knock on doors, buy water, buy pizza, but tablets so we can register voters online. … So we can have the greatest voter registration drive this state has ever seen.

Bittel vowed to maintain neutrality during intra-party contests. “I will not be in the incumbent-protection business,” he said.

And he promised the first-ever statewide field office for 2018.

The wealthy developer has been traveling almost constantly since becoming party leader in January. He’s also upending the party’s rules and structure.

He criticized the old process for choosing party leaders, saying he’d already formed a committee to revise the rules to “make running for office more accessible to all and voting more accessible to all.”

The procedure, he said, was “45 years old and we hadn’t touched it. It was written in an era when we ran everything as Democrats, and we don’t anymore.”

He promised a “massive investment” in the small and medium-sized counties and local Democratic clubs.

He said the party would distribute $100,000 in grants on Saturday in St. Petersburg.

Bittel described crashing a reception at the Governor’s Mansion. “Everyone was shocked to see me there. People kept saying, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I thought we should look around and see what it was like before we took it back.’

“Some of them grimaced and others smiled broadly, depending on which team they were,” Bittel said.

Bittel gave a shout out to a member of the Progressive Democratic Caucus who’d also attended a recent gathering in Tampa, during which caucus members had given him a relatively warm reception.

He got a bit of push-back when he argued against any kind of purity standard for candidates, mentioning Blue-Dog Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as an example of someone to his own right but with whom he shares basic values.

“I wish I could love every candidate. But I can’t love every candidate. I like the ones that are with us on almost every issue and that can win. And that’s what we need.”

Florida House panel votes to abolish PIP insurance effective Jan. 1

A House committee voted overwhelmingly Monday to do away with personal injury protection, or PIP, insurance in Florida.

The vote in the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee was 12-2, with Jay Fant and Blaise Ingoglia the holdouts.

PCS/HB 1063 passed despite concerns by insurers that they need stronger protections against bad-faith lawsuits by people injured by their policyholders.

Medical providers, meanwhile, argued that requiring accident victims to file lawsuits would make it harder for them to get paid.

Michael Grant, a Republican from Port Charlotte, summed up the mood among many committee members.

“This isn’t a perfect bill,” he said. “But I can’t continue to vote for or sustain a PIP environment that is just completely broken.”

Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, shepherding the measure, said rates are 9 percent higher now than they were after the last time the Legislature reformed PIP, in 2012. The reason, she said, is that people keep gaming the system.

“As we try and reform it and try and fix it, it just gets tweaked in a different way,” Grall said.

“So the value of this insurance has gone down with each reform. And the goal of the bill is to put meaningful insurance in place and bring accountability to the system — and put responsibility where it lies, and that’s with the at-fault driver.”

Among those opposing the bill were trial attorneys from the Orlando area, who argued their working-poor clients can’t wait for a trial to pay their doctors and cover lost wages.

“Without that, they can’t pay their light bills. They can’t pay for their rent. They can’t buy food. They need the $10,000 in PIP benefits just to keep living,” attorney Coretta Anthony-Smith said.

William Swope of the Florida Justice Association caused a mild stir by declaring the trial lawyers’ organization opposed the bill. He later clarified that he’d misspoken.

Swope argued that it is wrong for the government to force people to buy insurance they don’t need. No-fault insurance was a 70s-era ”utopian idea that we’re going to treat everyone the same,” he added. “And it’s old, and it’s tired, and it’s beat-up.”

Insurers liked the main thrust of the bill but wanted at least to add some notice period before third parties — people injured by their policyholders — could take them to court. That would give insurers time to investigate claims and decide whether to settle.

Fant cited that omission in explaining his no vote.

“I have to believe that reasonable insurers, and reasonable trial attorneys, and reasonable legislators can find objective compromise language that addresses this, and takes uncertainty out of the marketplace,” Fant said.

“My concern is that it’s more of a Pandora’s box-effect. And we can see it coming, so we ought to put our arms around that early on, in the most fair way possible.”

Grall insisted it’s not necessary to go there right now. Case law already provides some protections.

Moreover, what the insurers want “would make it more difficult for the plaintiff to move through the system — and would actually, I think, encourage them to seek counsel as opposed to trying to resolve the matter on their own,” Grall said.

As for the medical providers’ concerns, Grall argued that PIP entails the purchase of unneeded insurance for the majority who buy more than the minimum $10,000 coverage under existing law.

“If you have health insurance, you are being asked to purchase unnecessary insurance to take care of your medical expenses. If you are retired and eligible for Medicare, you do not need coverage for lost wages or medical expenses,” Grall said.

Effective Jan. 1, motorists no longer would be required to maintain PIP coverage. Instead, they would insure against bodily injury or death caused by accidents.

Similar legislation, SB 1766 by Tom Lee, is pending in the Senate. Also pending is SB 156 by Jeff Brandes. Neither has yet secured a hearing in committee.

Under the House bill, individuals would have to prove they have bodily injury coverage worth $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident, and $10,000 against property damage, when they register your car. The requirements for businesses would be higher.

There would be a transition period for policies already in effect.

The change is intended to save money — a study conducted for the Office of Insurance Regulation suggested in September that repeal could save $81 per car, although motorists could wind up paying more for other types of coverage, including health insurance.

Moreover the move could set a precedent for other insurance lines, and debating it could “stop the conversation this year,” she said.

“I think that conversation is best left separately. The decision to move from PIP to mandatory BI (bodily injury) would be huge for this state,” Grall said.

House insurance subcommittee to take up repeal of Florida’s PIP mandate

The House version of legislation to do away with personal injury protection, or PIP, insurance in Florida will get a hearing Monday before the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee.

PCS/HB 1063 is 57 pages long, but here’s the thrust:

Effective Jan. 1, motorists no longer would be required to maintain PIP coverage. Instead, they would insure against bodily injury or death caused by accidents.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. That’s SB 1766 by Tom Lee. Also pending is SB 156 by Jeff Brandes. Neither has yet secured a hearing in committee.

Neither version would make it more difficult to collect attorney fees, which business and insurance interests believe are driving up premiums, one insurance lobbyist complained.

“If you’re not going to address the attorney fees, to what end?” the lobbyist said.

Committee chairman Danny Burgess, a Zephyr Hills Republican, has been painstakingly bringing together the competing interests on volatile legislation this year — including workers’ compensation and AOB reform — for marathon workshops, searching for consensus.

On PIP, too, the interests are deeply divided, said Richard Stark, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“Lawyers want broader definition than insurers on bad faith. Some groups want no repeal. Hospitals want more med(ical) pay. Getting all stakeholders together on this is going to be difficult,” Stark said in an email.

For his part, Stark, an insurance agent, said: “I am not 100 percent convinced that discarding PIP is the best solution.”

Here’s how the new system would work. Individuals would have to prove they have bodily injury coverage worth $20,000 per person and $50,000 per incident, and $10,000 against property damage, when they register your car. The requirements for businesses would be higher.

There would be a transition period for policies already in effect.

The change is intended to save money — a study conducted for the Office of Insurance Regulation suggested in September that repeal could save $81 per car, although motorists could wind up paying more for other types of coverage, including health insurance.

The insurance lobbyist argued that PIP coverage represents only about one-quarter of total premiums. Bodily injury comprises half. And the bill would do nothing about mounting expenses for property damage — driven largely by texting-while-driving.

“That’s the overall trend. It’s a general understanding in the industry,” the lobbyist said.

Revenue conference prices sales tax exemption for medical marijuana

Legislation that would exempt medical marijuana from sales taxes would cost $24.3 million per year to Florida’s tax receipts, according to an estimate by state economists Friday.

HB 1397, by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues, is one of five medical marijuana bills to enact Amendment 2 that are circulating in the Legislature.

It would impose a number of restrictions on marijuana use — no smoking, vaping, or edibles, for example, although a terminally ill patient could vape.

The bill would take effect upon becoming law, and the state Revenue Estimating Conference concluded the state would have collected around $400,000 in pot taxes by that time.

As more people become eligible to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, the cost to state revenues would hike up to $24.3 million by 2021.

The Legislature could not use the money in the meantime to fund ongoing programs, although it would be available for one-time use each year, said Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The conference dropped plans to calculate the effect of House legislation on pari-mutuel, card room, and Seminole Indian gambling. The House is taking a less permissive approach to gambling than the Senate is.

“It just means they weren’t ready for us to meet on it yet,” Baker said.

House Speaker: Rick Scott’s focus on Enterprise Florida is misdirected

Gov. Rick Scott should spend less time talking about Enterprise Florida, and more seeking reform of the workers compensation system and assignment of benefits abuse, if he really cares about protecting jobs, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday.

“We’re talking about a tremendous amount of bandwidth going to Enterprise Florida, going to Visit Florida,” Corcoran told reporters during a wide-ranging news conference.

If the House prevails in its bid to kill Enterprise Florida and other economic incentive programs, and clips Visit Florida’s wings, the savings to taxpayers would amount to $100 million, Corcoran said.

“And the governor’s traveling the state, visiting individual members’ districts, and saying, ‘This is terrible for jobs! This is terrible for jobs!’

“I can tell the governor what’s terrible for jobs — what affects every single business across the board, small and large; what affects every single person out there who owns a home, small and large — is assignment of benefits and workers’ comp,” the speaker said.

Corcoran referred to a 14.5 percent increase in workers’ compensation premiums that began to take effect in December. The House Insurance & Banking committee approved a fix on March 14, but the Senate version has not yet come up for a hearing.

That could cost $550 million in increased premiums. “That’s in year one,” Corcoran said.

“And 14.5 is the initial recommendation — you could see higher increases. And they probably won’t be enough. You could see billions of dollars in increases on every single business.”

Similarly, absent AOB reform, homeowners could experience insurance hikes of as much as $4,000 per yea, Corcoran said, amounting to additional billions.

The House committee approved an AOB reform package the same evening as the workers’ comp bill.

“If I was to give encouragement to the governor, I’d say: ‘Go keep traveling. Start talking about workers’ comp and assignment of benefits, which have far more effects than Enterprise/Visit Florida on jobs,” Corcoran said.

“How can you just be silent on what really will hit jobs — really will cost people dramatic increases, homeowners and businesses? And he’s focused on $100 million that has little if not zero impact on jobs,” he said.

“Go over to the Senate and … get those guys on board for jobs,” Corcoran said.

House votes to steer most BP oil spill settlement money to the Panhandle

The Florida House voted Thursday unanimously to direct two-thirds of the $400 million the state is due from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to the worst-affected counties in the Panhandle.

HB 7077 requires 75 percent of all payments that Florida receives from the settlement agreement between the five Gulf states and BP be transferred from the general fund to the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund.

“This disaster took money out of the hands of families and hardworking small businesses in the Panhandle,” said Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who was one of many Northwest Florida House members who spoke for the legislation.

“I am excited today that we are now enduring this money will be put back in the hands of the people hurt most.

The vote was 112-0.

Under the proposal, the Triumph Gulf Coast corporation can award funding for several things including:

— Public infrastructure projects to enhance economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement in the disproportionately affected counties;

— Grants to local governments in the counties to establish and maintain equipment and trained personnel for local action plans to respond to disasters;

— Early childhood development and educational programs; and

— Grants to support programs to prepare students for future occupations and careers at K-20 institutions that have campuses in the communities.

The proposal requires Triumph Gulf Coast to give 14 days’ notice its intent to make an award and requires the corporation make sure each of the eight disproportionately affected counties directly benefit from the awards.

The committee also approved a bill establishing a trust fund.

House votes to bar use of red light cameras to monitor intersections

The Florida House voted Thursday to ban the use of red light cameras to enforce traffic laws in the state.

The vote on final passage went 91-22.

Supporters argued the cameras don’t save lives and have become money-makers for vendors, some of them located out of state.

“It has become less about public safety and more about revenue,” said Bryan Avila, the Hialeah Republican who presented the bill.

The state is sending $35 million to out-of-state vendors, he said. Yet the cameras are not stopping repeat traffic offenders — there were more than 150,000 of those recorded in the state, he said.

HB 6007 repeals state authorization for red light cameras and bans their use by local governments. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

Infractions linked to the cameras have generated about $18.8 million for the state thus far this budget year, according to a legislative analysis.

Al Jacquet, a Democrat from Lantana, argued that the cameras violate the 6th Amendment right to confront witnesses.

“With the red light camera program, they have no opportunity to confront that camera, because a camera is not a law enforcement officer,” Jacquet said.

“It is a revenue program, not a safety program,” he said.

The cameras had their defenders. Larry Ahern noted a more than 50 percent decrease in accidents at intersections.

“It does change drivers’ behavior. I think red light cameras are saving the lives of Floridians.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed Bryan Avila‘s quote.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons